For those in the know, Wester Ross is one of the most alluring spots in the Highlands, offering jaw-dropping beauty, stirring history and a vibrant cultural calendar. Those looking for mountains, lochs, forests, waterfalls and white sandy beaches will not be disappointed – neither will lovers of good music, literature and seafood.

You’ll find a wide array of these pleasures in Ullapool, the main settlement in Wester Ross, whose pretty harbour, great restaurants and bars and packed festival programme make it one of the most lively towns in the Highlands.

Sitting on the shores of Loch Broom (“loch of rain showers”) flanked by the Fannich hills, you are greeted on arrival by road or boat by cheerful white-washed cottages. And whether you’re making Ullapool a base to explore the wider area or just passing through on your way to the Outer Hebrides – the Stornoway ferry leaves from here – this small town will wow you with big attractions.

Historic highlights

Originally a clachan of just a few cottages, Ullapool was partially designed by Scots engineer Thomas Telford and formally founded as a herring port in 1788. As well as being a prosperous fishing centre, the port was also a key emigration point during and after the Highland Clearances, with many thousands leaving from the harbour to start new lives on the other side of the world.

One of Scotland’s top geographical hotspots, the town was pivotal in the development of plate tectonics in the Victorian era.

Scotland's Insider Guide: Stornaway

In 1973, roll-on roll-off ferries to Stornoway sailed from Ullapool for the first time, cutting the journey to Lewis (which previously had to be made from Kyle of Lochalsh) from 71 to 43 miles.

With a population of around 1,500, Ullapool still supports a small fishing fleet, though tourism is the main industry.

What to do

Housed in an A-listed Telford-designed church, the Ullapool Museum ( is the ideal place to learn about the town and its inhabitants, the fisherfolk, crofters and “klondykers” – workers from factory ships that docked in Ullapool from as far away as the USSR – that have formed the rich history of the area through the centuries. During summer months a guided walking tour of the town begins at the museum, which also has a genealogy centre and children’s activity area.

There’s no better way to experience the magnificence of Loch Broom – and the diverse wildlife and eco-system it supports – than a day out on the water. Seascape Expeditions ( offers fully-guided trips on a 14-person speed rib, complete with waterproof clothing. On an excursion to the nearby Summer Isles you can expect to spot seals, dolphins, porpoises, guillemots, fulmars and – if you’re lucky – the white-tailed sea eagle.

Those of a more athletic disposition may want to do the hard work themselves in a sea kayak. Norwest Sea Kayaking ( offers a host of hire options, including all-inclusive adventure holidays, for paddlers of all abilities.

Despite being a small town in a remote location, Ullapool has the sort of lively festival schedule more populous places would die for. The annual Book Festival, held in May, continues to go from strength to strength (this year’s line-up included Bernard MacLaverty, Denise Mina, David Hayman and Peter Ross), while music and words extravaganza Loopallu, which this year starts on 28 September, will welcome the likes of the Alabama 3, The Bluetones, British Sea Power, John Cooper Clarke and Val McDermid. The beginning of October, meanwhile, is time for the Ullapool Guitar Festival, which brings together an eclectic group of musicians and aficionados celebrating both the acoustic and electric varieties of the instrument across various genres of music. At the end October the Ullapool Beer festival takes place, showcasing the burgeoning craft beer scene in the Highlands. Smaller seafood, dance and comedy festivals add to the year-round festive feel.

Scotland's Insider Guide: Stornaway

Golfers, meanwhile, can enjoy one of the most stunning sporting backdrops anywhere in the world as they play the town’s compact nine-hole course, which is open to visitors (

Where to eat

Ullapool is a seafood paradise with some of the best catches anywhere in Scotland, much of it offered at reasonable prices.

Ross Macdonald told us to go to the Seaforth Bar and Restaurant on Quay Street ( for “the best fish and chips anywhere on the west coast”. The full menu also includes local langoustines, scallops, salmon, trout and lobster.

Esther Ballesteros, meanwhile, highly recommends the Ceilidh Place ( on West Argyle Street, a hotel, restaurant and live music venue that has been pulling in the punters for almost half a century. “We arrived in Ullapool pretty late one night, everywhere was packed and nowhere would take us for dinner,” she says. “The Ceilidh place was also really busy but the staff immediately found us a table and couldn’t have been nicer. The seafood was wonderful, the prices reasonable and the surroundings cosy. We had a great night.”

Scotland's Insider Guide: Stornaway

My favourite eatery has to be the award-winning Seafood Shack (, a tiny takeaway hut on West Argyle Street that delivers huge flavours. Open seven days a week from April to October, the Cullen skink, monkfish bites, crab claws and scallops – all served with vibrant and tasty sides – are to die for. No wonder Mary Berry couldn’t get enough of the place when she filmed in Ullapool last year.

Where to drink

The aforementioned Ceilidh Place is buzzy most weekends, as is the nearby Arch Inn, which overlooks Loch Broom and is a particular favourite of motorcyclists.

Further along the harbour is The Ferry Boat Inn, which has a particularly cosy feel, particularly in the colder months, thanks to the open fire. The perfect place to enjoy a dram.

Where to stay

Cheap: Ullapool Youth Hostel, Shore Street ( The spectacular seafront location affords stunning views across the loch and beyond, while inside the three-star hostel is well-equipped and offers free wifi. There are a range of accommodation options at different prices including private rooms for up to six people and family rooms. A bed in a shared room costs from £21 per person per night.

Comfortable: The aforementioned Ceilidh Place started life as a row of cottages and now comprises a hotel, restaurant, café bar, book shop and exhibition space. It offers both well-appointed rooms on a B&B basis as well as a self-catering budget bunkhouse. Prices vary according to season and room choice. Go to

Quirky: The Oakworth Ullapod. Located in a private garden under a cherry tree, this cute wooden pod sleeps two and contains a small kitchen. There’s a deck just outside and the toilet is at the other end of the garden. The owners also offer two luxury bell tents. From £49 per night. To book go to

Famous face

Actor Robert Urquhart – a character stalwart of film and TV who starred in The Avengers and The Danger Man, opposite Patrick McGoohan - was born in Ullapool and returned in the 1970s to establish the Ceilidh Place with his wife Jean.

What to see nearby

Mellon Udrigle beach

Just over an hour’s drive west from Ullapool sits one of the most stunning beaches in Scotland. Backed by dunes and surrounded by rocks, the white sands lead you to the sort of clear turquoise waters many Scots are still surprised to see in their homeland. As if that wasn’t enough, the mountain views are simply out of this world. On a clear day look north to see the distinctive profile of Suilven and maybe even the top of Stac Pollaidh.

Corrieshalloch Gorge National Nature Reserve

Drive from Ullapool along the shores of Loch Broom for just 20 minutes and you will arrive at one of the most spectacular sights in Scotland. Granted, you’ll need a good head for heights to get the most out of Corrieshalloch Gorge (“unattractive corrie” in Gaelic), which is 1.4km in length and 60m deep. The Victorian suspension bridge allows for dramatic tree-lined views of the River Droma as it plummets through waterfalls, while the surrounding woodland nature trails offer great walking and bird-spotting potential. If you’re lucky, you might even see a golden eagle.

Stac Polaidh

At a mere 613m it may not be the highest mountain in Scotland, but “peak of the peat moss” has a character all of its own, as its Gaelic name suggests. The relative ease of the climb – it’s not a Munro - makes Stac Pollaidh one of the more accessible mountains in the area, and it’s well worth the final steep scramble up to the distinctive ridge. On the ascent you’ll be accompanied by stunning views over Assynt to the north and the Summer Isles to the south.

In the next few weeks Marianne will be visiting Jedburgh, Dunblane, Linlithgow and Nairn. Send your hints and tips for things to do and places to eat, drink and stay, with a few lines about what makes them so memorable, to